Lawmakers budget $150,000 for youth mental health services in Hamptons

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The State Legislature has allocated $150,000 for improving mental health services on the South Fork, part of a push to provide more services for adolescents and children by the start of the 2014-15 school year.

Assemb. Fred W. Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) and Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) worked to secure the funding after David Hernandez Barros, 16, a gay student at East Hampton High School, committed suicide in September 2012 after reportedly being bullied. It was the third suicide of an adolescent in the area in recent years, officials said, exposing an urgent need for psychiatric and support services in the region and setting off a search for a solution.

"I made a promise to David's mother after his death that I would do everything in my power to never let this happen again," said Adam Fine, principal of East Hampton High School.

After Barros' death, Fine said more than 20 students sought emergency psychiatric treatment. To get to the nearest emergency psychiatric facility, they had to travel about 60 miles away, to Stony Brook University Hospital.

Fine contacted elected officials, who put together a task force of school officials and health care professionals. They wrote a draft plan for improving services on the South Fork, which calls for the hiring of a child psychiatrist and two social workers to respond to crises.

The total cost is estimated at $320,000, and officials are trying to raise more money and discussing how to spend it. Thiele said Southampton and East Hampton towns and local school districts may pitch in.

The task force called the shortage of psychiatrists and social workers on the South Fork a "crisis" fueled by geography, low population density, fewer year-round residents and a "perception of great wealth," according to a copy of the draft plan.

Mental health professionals said services are essentially limited to five clinics run by the Huntington-based nonprofit Family Service League and private practitioners, many of whom do not take insurance. Larry Weiss, the service league's senior vice president for programs, said a patient can wait up to two months to see a psychiatrist at a clinic.

"I can tell you that getting mental health services out here is very difficult," he said. "Our clinics are small and have long wait lists."

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The psychiatrist and social workers called for in the draft plan could be based at Family Service League clinics, Southampton Hospital or elsewhere, Thiele said.

Barros' death also expedited the August opening of the GLBT Center of the Hamptons in Sag Harbor, which provides support to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth.

David Kilmnick, a social worker and chief executive of the Long Island GLBT Services Network, said his organization may seek funding to hire a mental health professional at the center because so many people have asked about treatment there.

"The requests are coming from all over the East End, from young people and adults," he said.

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Mental health moves

$150,000

Allotted for improving services

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$320,000

Total estimated cost

60

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Miles from East Hampton High School to nearest emergency psychiatric facility

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